Apple pruning question

I did not do a good job of pruning my apple trees when first planted and in early years 15-20 years ago, and am trying to help my son with his first three apple trees so his do better than mine did.

Background info-he is located in the White Mts of east-central AZ, gets 4 seasons including a few feet of snow each winter due to 7000 ft elevation, growing season a few wks shorter than mine in PA. Locals say apples produce a full crop 2/7 years and partial crop about every other, due to late freezes.

Last Sept he bought three semi-dwarf apple trees at a local nursery on discount, trees that had not sold for a couple of years and were larger. The rootstock on one was M111, others not listed. Due to thin alkaline soil over old lava rock, we planted them in raised beds with a lot of organic matter added, pH now 7, deep watering system in place due to dry climate. They get about 5-6 hrs of full AZ sun and the rest partial sun due to a few tall pines. They survived the winter fine and look healthy and seem to be growing well. Two of the three flowered with no fruit set. Each is between 6.5 and 7.5 ft tall. However he was too busy thru the winter to prune them, as I had recommended. All three trees seem to have reasonable lower scaffold branches but I think for the upper portion of the trees, the ‘central leaders’ will need pruned. I did take out a few lower poorly located branches a few days ago during my visit.

My question - Is there a benefit to prune back the central leader now or should he wait till they are dormant next winter? Photos of each attached.

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The trees are not producing and the trees are not overly vigorous (not seeing much vigor at all actually). There is not much to risk if you top them off now, as far as hurting fruit production, crazy grow spur, or hindering the trees from hardening in the late fall.

I’m actually looking forward to read what others think about this.

If the tree is well established you could probably get away with it, but I generally shy away from aggressive summer pruning on very young trees. You could just snip off your terminal end on the leader for now then be more aggressive come late winter. This should still force some lateral growth while preserving the foliage the tree’s already expended the energy to make.

Those things are very leggy, especially 3. I’d prune back hard come dormancy.

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JVD, I was thinking in terms of what’ can go wrong with summer pruning which is affecting fruit production and creating an indiscriminate growth spur. As you said it looks leggy so I can’t imagine those things happening. Then again I don’t think the tree would be overly impressed with what I can imagine.

I agree fruit is moot at this point. Even if could fruit, that’s not wise for a first year tree.

Water sprouts (assuming that’s what you meant by indiscriminate growth) are generally more of an issue with dormant pruning than summer in my experience. In fact, most literature I’ve read specifically lists lack of water sprouts as a key benefit to summer pruning.

Summer pruning is more apt to stunt a tree than invigorate it.

And snipping central leaders on trees that like to become big
is sort of like planting a maple that usually gets 60 feet tall but topping it every year
to keep it at 15 feet.

Snipping a central leader to encourage side branches can be good in dormant conditions, letting it then re-form a central leader.

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Thanks for the opinions. Tree one has no real central leader, more of a fan of similar sized branches. In dormant season he should prune below that I assume?

Not necessarily so. I lived in Aomori Japan where they grow over half of all apples produced in Japan. They grow them in traditional orchards with full size trees pruned for production. Check these ones out:

Now imagine those growing as tall as the branches are going wide, and i’m sure they pruned lateral growth as well.

I have a kerr (crab)apple tree that is ridiculously easy to prune. The branches pretty much come out in a 90 degree angle so I set a lower scaffold, cleared the trunk 18 inches and topped the tree a bit above that. Now is putting another set of branches radially, at close to 90 degree angle, at the spot I would have hoped they would go. This tree is going to make me look like I know what I’m doing :smiley:

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Now that I am summer pruning, what to do with all these branches?

My American

common persimmon lost its leader 3 years ago and is growing out instead of tall

Yes, I’ve seen 50 and 60 year old trees manipulated as the photo suggests.
but they didn’t start out that shape.

It’s still spring.

Well yes, that’s what we are talking about; pruning to achieve a desired shape.

The Japanese orchards I saw were similar to these; branches were kept low enough to work the trees but high enough to work under. They had these funny looking low sprayers that they could drive under the canopies for spraying the trees: